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Parents, this is how to prepare for back-to-school if you’re going back to the office

Take stock of your local school system’s demands and your home structure. Then start putting together a game plan.

Parents, this is how to prepare for back-to-school if you’re going back to the office
[Source photo: RODNAE Production/Pexels]
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With 89% of parents saying they’re sending their children back to school this fall, the vast majority of families will be transitioning out of remote schooling into a more “normal” school structure. If you’re one of those parents, you’ve not only been working through the typical back-to-school transitions of getting school supplies and new clothes, but also might be wondering what this means for your own work schedule.

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You now have more freedom to choose how you structure your time, at least when your kids are out of the home, and you may also be looking at the option—or requirement—to spend some time back in the office.

Each person’s situation will look a little different based on their school system, home requirements and workplace expectations; but here are some ways that you can leverage this transition to your advantage.

Find out your options

No one knows exactly what this new school will bring (whether that’s more school closures and quarantines or more minor adjustments), so it’s good to have conversations with anyone related to your work and school schedule to find out your options. This includes talking to the following parties:

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  • The school about before- and after-school care, transportation options, and the policy regarding the school staying open.
  • Your boss about the current return-to-work policies and what your options are if your children need to do remote school at some point this school year.
  • Your spouse, other members of the household, and/or caretakers about their schedules, their companies’ plans for return-to-work, and their flexibility.
  • Backup care options for before and after school, school closure, sick child, etc.

Have the conversations early so that you’re aware of the different scenarios, informed about other people’s expectations, and have fall-back options in place so you’re not constantly worried about what you’ll do if you unexpectedly have to go to the office or your kids are unexpectedly at home.

Adjust your remote work schedule

If you’re continuing to work fully remote, you’ll likely have the fewest adjustments to your work schedule. But a few tweaks will be in order.

The first will be to figure out what role you play in the morning routine. Some of my time-management coaching clients who help with getting the kids off to school in the morning, get up early, put in about an hour on planning, email, or other independent work, help their kids get ready, and then once the kids are out the door, head back to their home office. Others switch off with their spouse on who is responsible for the morning routine. And still others take on the after-school part of childcare instead of helping early.

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The same is true with after-school care. Depending on your children’s ages and levels of independence, and the amount of outside support you have, you’ll need to make sure that your remote work schedule is blocked so you can be available for pickup or other after-school commitments.

I also recommend that you leverage your remote work schedule by putting your most critical focused work and meetings in the time blocks when your kids are at school. And then use the times for when they’re home in the afternoon for simpler tasks and answering email.

Optimize your hybrid schedule

“Hybrid” varies quite a bit between offices, ranging from one day a week up to three or even four. And different family and commuting situations open up different opportunities and challenges. If you’re a single parent, you’ll likely need to figure out childcare options for the days you’re in the office or have those be the days your children stay with their co-parent. You may choose to use the same childcare options on the days you work from home, or take a few hours off in the afternoon to be with your kids and then work later at night.

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If you’re married and your spouse also has a hybrid schedule, you can either switch off days when one of you is in the office and the other is at home, or you can both go to the office on the same days and have a nanny take care of your kids from early in the morning until one of you gets home. If you both have long commutes, choosing the latter option could work well so you have someone devoted full time to childcare when you’re gone for 10 or 12 hours. And on days when you’re both home, you could use the saved commute time to help one another cover childcare needs before and after school.

In terms of scheduling, I recommend that you do your most important meetings on your office days and then your most important focused work on your work-from-home days during the times your kids are in school.

Establish your office schedule

If you’re fully back in the office, you’ll need to go back to the level of streamlining in your household that you had pre-2020. That means deciding on a standard time to pick up groceries or have them delivered, systematize lunch prep and dinner prep, arrange for all transportation, and figure out what hours you need to be at work so your commute coincides with traffic or the public transportation schedule. Your hours at home are slim, so you need to use them carefully for getting things done as well as enjoying time with your family.

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You’ll need to also establish who will do the things that you were doing while you were home but might not be able to do anymore. Maybe there are some chores around the house that you were able to easily fit in but now need someone else to take on. Or you did some homework duty but now need a tutor to step in after school. Get really realistic about what is possible now that you have the extra commute time so you can shift those commitments to others, including, potentially, your kids. When you’re gone all day, you can’t do as much at home. And that’s OK.

And of course in all of this, we need to stay agile. What you’re planning for this year’s school-and-office schedule may happen exactly as planned, or you may need to pivot. But by thinking through how to prepare for and leverage the back-to-school schedule you can produce the best possible outcomes—with the least amount of stress.